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It’s time we REALLY stood together. Restaurants In South Africa

Once upon a time, a restaurant owner was washed up on a deserted island. When he was finally rescued ten or so years later, his rescuers asked him how he had kept himself busy and motivated for the past ten years.

“Well,” he said, pointing at two amazing buildings, “using only the elements I could find on the island, I built those two restaurants over there.”

“Two restaurants?” asked his rescuers. “Why would you build TWO restaurants?”

“The one on the right is MY restaurant. And the one on the left is the one I WOULD NEVER SET FOOT IN!”

And in that funny but sad interaction lies the truth that befalls our industry. At a time when we most need to stand together, we are still splintered, suspicious, and unsupportive of each other. 

Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to work closely with Wendy Alberts from the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA). This remarkable lady has stood strong and stood tall. She has championed the cause of the industry and challenged government, suppliers, insurers, and landlords, alike. She has communicated up and down the line to ensure we are all kept up to date with the latest developments and insights, and of course, has stood in the pouring rain to raise awareness of the plight of the industry.

Despite all this, there have remained groups and individuals working tirelessly behind the scenes to undermine her efforts, questioning her commitment, resolve, and tactics. There were splinter bodies forming, taking as much free press as they could and looking after the self-interests of only a small percentage of those affected.

As if the challenges of Covid-19, curfew, and prohibition were not enough, somebody chose to roll in a huge stick of dynamite with the words, “Bargaining Council”, scribbled on it with crayon.

Restaurant owners (term used to encompass bars, caterers, take out, sit down – in fact, almost everyone) threw their arms up in the air, screamed “F#CK” across every form of social media and messenger platform available, and turned to anyone they possible could for answers that were not available.

Then, of course, there are the many establishments that have chosen to flout the rules in any way they possibly can, breaking curfew, and/or selling alcohol – either on or off consumption – with no regard for how this impacts on the rest of the industry or government’s outlook towards the industry. 

DISCLAIMER: Many of these decisions have been born out of pure desperation and an honest belief that the rules are punitive and not supportive of any policy. For this reason, I choose NOT to condemn these operators but to simply point out that their actions do affect the entire industry and not just themselves.

Even with an expected lifting of some of the curfew and some of the rules affecting the sale of alcohol on and off premises, one thing I am pretty certain of is that this is a LONG WAY from over and there is a long and difficult road ahead for the industry and many others that have been affected.

“What to do?” you may ask. Well for one thing, it is certainly time to come together, not just in spirit, but in body too. It is time to build, nurture, and support an organisation that has our interests at heart (as diverse as these may be). I was in that room in Rosebank the day RASA was born and have supported it on every level I have been able to, and for that reason, my faith still rests in RASA.

Join the organisation. Support it. Not just with an annual fee, but by taking an active role. Help set up groups within the organisation to help each and every one of us survive, initially, and thrive in the future. Help establish a code of conduct and ethics that we can all support and be proud of. And most importantly, help us present a unified position that can be presented to government, our suppliers, our staff, and of course, our customers.

I know many of you are in survival mode. I know that there is an air of despair creeping through the industry. But NOW is the time to act, to come together, and to support each other and an industry we all love and rely on.

I wish you all Godspeed and the strength you may need to weather this storm. But more than that, I wish you all the wisdom and foresight to make some vital, important, and brave decisions that may help this industry of ours for years to come.

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